International Women’s Day 2019: Women Who Inspire Us
In celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8th, we are highlighting a woman every Friday from either Palestine or Lebanon who is a leader in her community, changing social norms or making the world a better place.
Engineer in Lebanon
“It was really hard for me to enter the field of engineering, as it’s an overwhelmingly male dominated field. Some of the men working on construction sites were very reluctant to take orders and instructions from a 28-year-old woman; but soon enough, after numerous interactions, they started to listen to me. Then they started asking for my advice. And now we enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship based on learning and growth.
I believe that if ‘he can do it, she can do it!’ I do not compare myself to men, because there are plenty of successful women out there who accomplish wonders, and they prove to their communities how great they are at what they do.”
Born in Beirut in 1991, Nihal Halimi is Palestinian and lives with her mother and two of her sisters in Burj El Shemali camp. After majoring in architecture at Lebanese American University in Beirut, she continued her education to become an engineer, eventually entering the building industry in Lebanon. Last year, Nihal worked with Anera to design safe play areas and new football fields in refugee camps and poor communities in northern Lebanon. Her designs provide children with modern and safe places to express themselves, allowing them to let out stress.
Unfortunately in 2019, women like Nihal still face instances of sexism in the work-place, but by confronting expectations about what professions are acceptable for women, she builds up other women as well as her community. Nihal joins other women who are breaking glass ceilings and making their communities better in male-dominated fields. Women like her are the leaders and role models of tomorrow.
Women can do anything!
Professional driver at Anera Lebanon
“I love driving. Every time I sit behind the wheel, I regard my passengers as my children. I try my best to make them as comfortable as possible and get them to wherever they are going safe and sound.
My community wasn’t really supportive [of my profession]. Even now, I still sometimes hear people saying things like “Oh look, it’s a woman driving this truck!” But I never cared about what they said, because to me a woman can do anything a man can if she sets her mind to it. And I really want every woman to look at herself as an effective member of her community, and to know that she can work anywhere and be better than any man.
We can change how people look at us, simply by doing what we love, and excelling at it.”
Layla has made a career out of confronting expectations about which professions are acceptable for women. Through her success in a traditionally male occupation, she opens doors for other women.
Thank you for your passion, Layla!
Advocate for Inclusive Education in Palestine
“Our children are the leaders of tomorrow. It all begins with enriching their surroundings and giving them impetus and appreciation to grow with passion and love for themselves. We are setting them up for a brighter future.” – Nariman
Throughout her life, Nariman has dedicated herself to standing up for a child’s right to an education. Over the years, she has worked hard at implementing an early childhood and inclusive education program in Palestine. Nariman’s career began in 1992 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia when she and a Saudi colleague launched an early childhood development (ECD) center for children with disabilities. The center worked with families in their homes as well as at the center. “It was a breakthrough model in the Middle East back then,” Nariman recalls.
In 2003, she moved to Palestine to continue her advocacy and worked as a school counselor and a learning support coordinator at the Friends Boys’ School in Ramallah for eight years. She then went on to continue her work in ECD and inclusive education through positions at An-Najah National University, the Norwegian Refugee Council, UNESCO, AVSI, and Save the Children. Currently, she is the coordinator of the early childhood development program and Women Can! project for Anera in Palestine.
The breadth of her background in special education, Montessori, psychology and sociology helps her integrate all these disciplines in a holistic education program. She believes children are naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. Through her work with Anera, she advances these methods in Palestine and promotes ECD and inclusive education in Ramallah and Gaza preschools.
Last month, Nariman came to Gaza to hold similar trainings for Nawa for Culture & Arts Association’s cultural center, in ECD and inclusive education practices. She presented different ECD approaches, and helped build Nawa’s own approach that focused on the needs of children and their teachers. Importantly, she familiarized Nawa’s teachers with some of the administrative and planning work that needs to be done so that teachers can track results and incorporate, storytelling, drama and music into each activity.
She explains that a child’s mind is like a sponge – absorbing knowledge from the prepared environment and materials. “When you observe that children are excited and uplifted by an activity, it is a subtle signal that the teacher is on the right track and that the child is now ready to learn,” says Nariman.
Thank you for all that you do for Palestine’s youngest.
18-Year-Old Refugee from Syria & Apprentice Electrician
“I signed up [for the electrician vocational course] because I needed to change something in my life. For me, this was the best way to go. I wanted to actually do something. To be unique. No woman in my family has ever studied for a job like this. When I completed the course, I gained a new sense of confidence and had acquired new skills. We [women] are fully capable of doing jobs like these, and that’s really cool!” – Najat
Despite fleeing warfare in her native Syria, eighteen-year-old Najat, whose name literally means ‘survival’ in Arabic, has managed to not only survive but thrive. Before the war started in Syria, Najat was looking forward to finishing high school and enrolling at the University of Damascus, a public institution and one of the most well-regarded universities in the region. Unfortunately, the war soon reached her family’s region and Najat was forced to drop out of high school before graduating. She and her family fled the violence in Syria for Lebanon and moved in with distant relatives in the southern city of Sidon. That was four years ago.
In those four years, Najat had few options. She worked tedious low-wage jobs to help contribute to the family income and considered enrolling in school again to complete her secondary education. But as their living circumstances grew more difficult, re-starting her education became less and less of a viable option. Then in 2018, Najat overheard a group of young men discussing free vocational courses that were being held in a nearby educational center. She decided to pay them a visit to learn more about the program. When she finally did visit, Najat was delighted to find that there were a wide range of courses available and was particularly interested in the electricity maintenance course. Culturally, electrical maintenance, or any work of this kind, had usually been considered a ‘man’s job’ in Lebanon, but Najat’s family fully encouraged her to enroll in the program.
Like all of Anera’s vocational education students, Najat completed the theoretical phase of the course and was ready to move into her apprenticeship. Anera’s team matched Najat with Al-Habsh, a famous electricity appliance shop located in the heart of downtown Sidon which is an ideal place for her apprenticeship. When we paid her a visit at the shop in March 2019, Najat was jubilant and full of smiles. She had just been designated employee of the month!
Najat, we’re so proud of you and all your hard work!
Reem Abu Jaber
Executive Director of Nawa for Culture and Arts Association, Gaza
“Children’s energy has always inspired me! I feel sorry for what our children have to witness in Gaza. Poverty, poor education, war and many other things. Children show us they are always ready to make a new start once they grasp an opportunity. They never give up! Working with the children of Gaza inspires every teacher. They are eager and open to learn new and different things despite what the world has thrown at them.” – Reem
Because of Reem and her team of dedicated educators, thousands of Palestinian children, families and educators in Gaza have access to cultural, artistic and psycho-social programs through the Nawa for Culture and Arts Association (NCAA). NCAA was founded in 2014 by Reem and a group of young, passionate, dedicated Palestinians in Deir Al Balah, central Gaza, to help empower their local communities through culture and arts programs. These programs are created and run in a way that helps preserve Palestinian culture and empower Palestine’s future generations.
In 2011, Reem was awarded France’s National Order of Merit, the Insignia of Officer, for her achievements and dedication to children’s cultural and educational development in the Gaza, Palestine. With more than 15 years of experience in consultancy, capacity building, senior management and strategic fundraising in international development in Gaza she has a proven track record of accomplishment in institutional building and management in conflict and less-privileged areas. She is specialized in non-formal education, cultural management for children and families, family literacy and psycho-social support for traumatized children.
Reem, you inspire us!
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